HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Democratic Party's most powerful voices warned Saturday that abortion, Social Security and democracy itself are at risk as they labored to overcome fierce political headwinds — and an ill-timed misstep from President Joe Biden — over the final weekend of the 2022 midterm elections.
“Sulking and moping is not an option,” former President Barack Obama told several hundred voters on a blustery day in Pittsburgh. “On Tuesday, let’s make sure our country doesn’t get set back 50 years."
Later in the day, Biden shared the stage with Obama in Philadelphia, the former running mates campaigning together for the first time since Biden took office. In neighboring New York, even former President Bill Clinton, largely absent from national politics in recent years, was out defending his party.
The trio of Democrats were the first presidents, but not last, to speak out on Saturday as voters across America decide control of Congress and key statehouses. Former President Donald Trump finished the day at a rally in working-class southwestern Pennsylvania, describing the election in apocalyptic terms.
“If you want to stop the destruction of our country and save the American dream, then on Tuesday you must vote Republican in a giant red wave,” Trump told thousands of cheering supporters, describing the United States as “a country in decline."
Biden, Trump, Obama and Clinton — four of the six living presidents — focused on Northeastern battlegrounds on Saturday, but their words echoed across the country as the parties sent out their best to deliver a critical closing argument. Polls across America will close on Tuesday, but more than 36 million people have already voted.
Not everyone, it seemed, was on message Saturday.
Even before arriving in Pennsylvania, Biden was dealing with a fresh political mess after upsetting some in his party for promoting plans to shut down fossil fuel plants in favor of green energy. While he made the comments in California the day before, the fossil fuel industry is a major employer in Pennsylvania.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the president owed coal workers across the country an apology. He called Biden's comments “offensive and disgusting.”
Trump seized on the riff in western Pennsylvania, charging that Biden “has resumed the war on coal, your coal.”
The White House said Biden’s words were “twisted to suggest a meaning that was not intended; he regrets it if anyone hearing these remarks took offense” and that he was “commenting on a fact of economics and technology.”
Democrats are deeply concerned about their narrow majorities in the House and Senate as voters sour on Biden’s leadership amid surging inflation, crime concerns and widespread pessimism about the direction of the country. History suggests that Democrats, as the party in power, will suffer significant losses in the midterms.
Clinton addressed increasing fears about rising crime as he stumped for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose election is at risk even in deep-blue New York. He blamed Republicans for focusing on the issue to score political points.
“But what are the Republicans really saying? ‘I want you to be scared and I want you to be mad. And the last thing I want you to do is think,’” Clinton said.
Trump campaigned in western Pennsylvania on behalf of Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Senate nominee, and Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor. Oz, who has worked to craft a moderate image throughout the fall after earning Trump's endorsement, briefly joined Trump on stage, but delivered his formal remarks more than an hour earlier.
A double rainbow flashed across the sky shortly before Oz spoke.
“Here’s the deal. I’m not a politician, I’m a surgeon," Oz told thousands of Trump loyalists. “And what surgeons do is tackle big problems and we do it successfully, in my case fixing broken hearts, by working with everybody.”
The attention on Pennsylvania underscores the stakes in 2022 and beyond for the tightly contested state. The race between Oz and Democrat John Fetterman race could decide the Senate majority — and with it, Biden's agenda and judicial appointments for the next two years. The governor's contest will determine the direction of state policy and control of the state's election infrastructure heading into the 2024 presidential contest.
Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, leads in polls over Mastriano, a state senator and retired Army colonel who some Republicans believe is too extreme to win a general election in a state Biden narrowly carried two years ago.
Polls show a closer contest to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey as Fetterman recovers from a stroke he suffered in May. He jumbled words and struggled to complete sentences in his lone debate against Oz last month, although medical experts say he’s recovering well from the health scare.
Having little trouble speaking on Saturday, Fetterman railed against Oz and castigated the former New Jersey resident as an ultrawealthy carpetbagger who will say or do anything to get elected. Gusty winds knocked several American flags off the stage during his remarks.
“I’ll be the 51st vote to eliminate the filibuster, to raise the minimum wage,” said Fetterman, wearing his trademark black hoodie. “Please send Dr. Oz back to New Jersey.”
Fetterman hugged Obama after they spoke in Pittsburgh. Later in Philadelphia, Fetterman linked hands with Biden, Obama and Shapiro.
Biden’s speech was largely the same he has been giving for weeks — spotlighting a grab bag of his major legislative achievements, while warning that abortion rights, voting rights, Social Security and Medicare are at risk should Republicans take control of Congress this week.
The president highlighted the Inflation Reduction Action, passed in August by the Democratic-led Congress, which includes several health care provisions popular among older adults and the less well-off, including a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket medical expenses and a $35 monthly cap per prescription on insulin. The new law also requires companies that raise prices faster than overall inflation to pay Medicare a rebate.
But with a bigger and more energetic audience in his home state, Biden’s energy seemed lifted.
“I lived in Pennsylvania longer than Oz has lived in Pennsylvania, and I moved away when I was 10 years old," a fiery Biden said.
As for Trump, his evening rally in Latrobe was part of a late blitz that will also take him to Florida and Ohio. He's hoping a strong GOP showing will generate momentum for the 2024 run that he's expected to launch in the days or weeks after polls close.
Trump displayed recent poll numbers on the big screens at the rally and referred to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP rival, as “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
And over and over, he falsely claimed he lost the 2020 election only because Democrats cheated, while raising the possibility of election fraud this coming week. In part, because of such rhetoric, federal intelligence agencies have warned of the possibility of political violence from far-right extremists in the coming days.
“Everybody, I promise you, in the very next — very, very, very short period of time, you’re going to be happy,” Trump said of another White House bid. "But first we have to win an historic victory for Republicans on Nov. 8.”
Madhani reported from Joliet, Illinois, and Peoples from New York. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Michelle Price in New York contributed to this report.
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow the AP’s election coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.